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All the Way Home - a world premiere by Ayub Khan-Din presented by Manchester Library Theatre at The Lowry

Published by: Caroline May on 2nd Oct 2011 | View all blogs by Caroline May
All The Way Home press pic 25[1].JPG


Families in confined spaces have been a staple of entertainment since the ancient Greeks, and probably before. You, who know far more than I, can effortlessly reel off a dozen stories told in various media about parents, children and blood relatives who, closeted together by circumstance, run drooling audiences through the entire spectrum of emotion before detonating in a non-nuclear finale.

So is this just another theatrical soap? We-e-ll, yes, BUT as Wodehouse said, the treatment is everything. Happily, Ayub Khan-Din gives us some memorable characters, enabling Mark Babych to guide the actors into providing memorable performances.

The production is claustrophobically set in a single room, the ground-floor back of a two-up two-down terrace in less-desirable part of Salford which is being regenerated. We’re reminded of this throughout the performance by the ceiling, which consists simply of a grid of bare beams, as if the house is already part-demolished. Being able to see through the ceiling also keeps in our mind the presence of the dying brother, Frankie, in his room upstairs, as does a baby alarm kept on the kitchen table, the display of which rises and falls with the sounds of his difficult breathing. It’s a little odd, therefore, that the volume on the device is only turned up enough to be audible when a member of the family wishes to make a point about him; the rest of the time it’s silent and ignored. Only one scene takes place elsewhere, half-way up the stairs in an almost-demolished house – a lovely example of a set providing an insight into a character.

This character is Sonia, one of the three sisters in the family, and what one might consider to be the stereotypical Salfordian. Her opening line drew a delighted gasp of shocked laughter from the audience, and is quite unrepeatable here, but it (seemed to have) told us all we needed to know about this feisty woman. But as the play progresses, we come to understand a great deal more about her as she becomes one of the most sympathetic characters. Julie Riley plays her with all the right notes and in the right order; that she wasn’t able to make us laugh and cry within a minute was due more to the length of a speech than her delivery of it. Those better acquainted than I with darker Salford tell me she was too well-spoken and her ‘trackies’ too neat, but correcting this, I suspect, would lessen her dramatic effectiveness.

Her youngest brother, Philip, is particularly close, and this is shown mainly in the background, but most entertainingly; at times, they’re almost a double act. Paul Simpson’s good-natured but educationally sub-normal lad has many excellently-delivered comic moments, notably with a camera, but lacks sufficient gravitas to convince when trying to stand up for or to someone – exactly the difficulty that kind of young disadvantaged man might have. He was clearly an audience favourite.

Another audience favourite was the formidable Auntie Sheila, sister of the siblings’ late mother. Auntie Sheila would like to be the matriarch of the clan and conducts herself as such, but can’t quite pull it off owing to a lack of social skills and a fondness for advocaat; but she has Judith Barker’s expert timing and delivery, and evident experience, to power her attempts to control everyone else. Perhaps, as the run progresses, Auntie Sheila will be able to control Judith Barker’s fondness for a responsive audience. Her daughter, Samantha, was the archetypal wearer of shell-suits, right down to the occasional baby; difficult to play without appearing to nod to Little Britain, but flawlessly achieved by Naomi Radcliffe.

Of course, in an ensemble piece, everyone benefits from a responsive audience, even those whose characters are less vividly drawn. Vital (and I mean vital) contributions come from Susan Cookson and Kate Anthony, the two elder sisters Janet and Carol. Janet is the quiet hub of the family, having given up her life (it seems) to care for Frankie in his final illness. Although the character has much to say in the second act, it’s a challenge to make her anything other than on-stage management in the first, but a challenge which Susan Cookson clearly accepted and overcame, portraying a determinedly caring and tolerant anchor to the tempest-tossed barking of the others. Meanwhile, Kate Anthony as Carol provided a valuable touchstone for those less used to Salford ways, a woman who’s successfully escaped material poverty in bleaker Salford to find emotional poverty in her marital home in comfortable Didsbury village; a realistic but domitable Hyacinth Bucket.

Finally, the little piggy who went to market, and made himself a fortune, is called Brian. In a play where there is so much need for unity within the cast, portraying the brother who is now almost a stranger might be hard to accomplish, yet Sean Gallagher shows us how Brian is torn between concern for his siblings and desire for his new celebrity life – with the pull not being as even as the others would like. Gallagher smoothly delineates his wavering and the emotional confusion he endures, and plays some engaging comedy with Philip as they try to bond after all this time.

So it’s the performances and the production which entertain, while the play underpins them but shows us nothing we didn’t already know. But it has a genuine air, as far as I can tell at least, of the kind of cheeky self-assured arrogance in a Salford scally that appeals to our secret rebel, that desire to be right on our own terms and f**k the authorities. Perhaps this is best shown by the inclusion of Mickey (James Foster, seriously under-used), a character with two lines who’s on stage for perhaps a minute – a distinct impression of a Salfordian snook cocked at arts funding cuts.

There’s much emotion, light and dark, shown in this production, and as an evening’s satisfying entertainment, it cannot be bettered. The destiny of the play itself, however, is less clear. It’s fine as far as it goes, but whether it really does go all the way home remains to be seen.

All the Way Home by Ayub Khan-Din

The Manchester Library Theatre Company
at The Lowry, Salford Quays until 15th October

Eves: Mon-Sat @ 7.15pm
Matinees: Sats & Thurs 13 @ 2.30pm
Tickets: £12-£19.50 (booking fees may apply)
0843 208 6000 or



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